tv PBS News Hour PBS January 4, 2011 10:00pm-11:00pm PST
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> lehrer: good evening. i'm jim lehrer. republican leaders vow to cut spending on the eve of the start of the new congress. >> ifill: and i'm gwen ifill. on the newshour tonight, we get a reality check from two federal budget watchers on what's politically viable and what's not. >> lehrer: then senators lamar alexander and tom udall debate changing the senate's filibuster system. >> ifill: lindsey hilsum of independent television news reports on the continuing deadlock in ivory coast after a disputed presidential election. >> lehrer: ray suarez interviews the dallas county district attorney about a convicted texas man cleared by d.n.a. testing after spending 30 years in prison.
>> ifill: plus jeffrey brown talks to writer kwame dawes about his video poems capturing the aftermath of haiti's earthquake. >> the faces of mothers, of motrs, their cek bones gleaming against taught skin, their eyes glazed with the scarring of so much loss. >> lehrer: that's all ahead on tonight's newshour. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> well, the best companies are driven by new ideas. >> our history depends on new ideas. we spend billions on advanced technologies. >> it's all about investing in the future. >> we can find new energy-- more cleaner, safer and smarter. >> collaborating with the best in the field. >> chevron works with the smartest people at leading universities and tech companies. >> and yet, it's really basic. >> it's paying off every day.
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>> ifill: the battle of the budget is set to begin in washington tomorrow, as the 112th congress begins work and newly empowered republicans vow to slash government spending. when republicans officially take control of the house of representatives tomorrow, at least one major campaign promise will encounter its first reality test. incoming house speaker john boehner set the stage for the coming spending debate on election night. >> i'm here to tell you tonight that our new majority will be prepared to do things differently. to take a new approach that hasn't been tried in washington before by either party. it starts with cutting spending instead of increasing it. ( applause ) reducing the size of government instead of increasing it. >> ifill: in the first of what is expected to be a series of
budget-cutting maneuvers the house republicans have already proposed reducing operating budgets for its house committees and congressional offices. the move would shave a projected $35 million from salaries and other expenses. cutting congress's budget had been part of the republicans' pledge to america unveiled during the fall campaign. >> with this pledge republicans will save the american dream as it drowns in a sea of red ink. we will make it bigger and brighter for the next generation. we will not allow the torch of liberty to be mortgaged. >> ifill: today house leaders said they would introduce a bill a week to fulfill that pledge with the goal of reducing domestic spending by $100 billion this year. incoming leaders have also promised to freeze the size of the federal work force with the exception of national security. and eric cantor, who will become house majority leader, told reporters today everything else is on the table.
after republicans gained 63 seats in the house and another 6 in the senate, some newly elected lawmakers called for even larger cuts including rolling back spending to pre-2008 levels. utah senator-elect mike lee told the newshour's judy woodruff the department of education should be one target. >> we could save about $50 billion a year doing that. of course that's a drop in the bucket compared to what we would need to cut if we were to balance the budget. that's why i say we're going to have to look at across-the- board cuts the likes of which we could discern perhaps by looking back to a budget as recent as the 2004 budget. >> ifill: house democrats now facing minority status pushed back today. the proposals would cost more than they save says this senator. >> what they have talked about will be ruinous to the economy and to the middle class. cutting education. cutting transportation.
all of those pieces which they want to drastically cut will create jobs, will help to lower the deficit. that's the direction, that's the forward direction. >> ifill: democrats also said another republican priority, repealing the health care law, would undercut republican goals by actually add to go the deficit. outgoing house speaker nancy pelosi. >> so to say we're going to repeal it is just as been said by my colleagues is to do very serious violence to the national debt and deficit. you can't just say i like the palatable parts of this but i don't want the structural change that is required. >> ifill: even a new food safety law expected to be signed by the presidt today instantly became part of the debate. as republicans threateneded to withhold $1.4 billion in administrative costs. we turn now to two budget
experts >> ifill: we turn now to two budget experts who have been studying the spending issue. diane lim rogers, chief economist for the concord coalition, a deficit watchdog group that argues for balanced budgets. and james horney, director of federal fiscal policy at the center on budget and policy priorities, which opposes cutting the budget too deeply. welcome to you both. diane rogers, i guess i want to start with you. how big a deal should spending be nd how big a deal is it going to be on the congressional agenda the next few weeks? >> well i think it depends on whether you're talking about short term or long term. our real problems in terms of the federal budget have to do with our commitment for decades to come. right now we're in a very fragile economy so it's not necessarily the time to reduce budget deficits now but it is a time to spend deficits wisely. >> ifill: just about the spending part. we saw today members of congress say they're going to cut congressional budget staff. we've heard the president even talk about that. is that the way to begin? >> well, certainly if there's waste in any of those areas of
the budget, it's a welcome source to cut. but the problem is that all the areas that look like legitimate waste they don't really add up to the kind of money that congress is talking about cutting. if you talk about all the exemptions, things that they're actually taking off the table for these budget cuts, then you're talking pretty serious percentage cuts in some pretty essential programs. >> ifill: what do you think? >> i think diane is exactly right. you have to think about two different periods here. in the short run we have a very fragile economy. we still have about seven million fewer jobs than we did just a couple of years ago. the economy is growing but we need to make sure it keeps growing at a rapid rate to dig ourselves out of the hole. if we try to cut the deficit too fast, in particular try to cut spending too fast it is going to undercut the recovery. that would be very bad for the nation. in the long run we absolute absolutely have to deal with the deficits that are going to spiral out of control because primarily rising health care
costs and the aging of the population. we really have to take steps that will bring particularly health care costs under control. that's systemwide. public and private health care costs. we have to increase revenues in order to get those deficits under control. they're simply unsustainable in the long run. >> ifill: you both talk about the long run and the short run. how do you get to the long run if you don't start somewhere. >> we're trying to start somewhere by having, we just had the report of the president's fiscal commission and a lunch of other groups around town. they're all emphasizing the fact that it's important to get a plan in place now to commit to a path to fiscal sustainability in the future. even as we continue to do a large amount of deficit spending now. that's how we get from the short term to the long term is making sure the economy is on solid ground, putting plans in place for once the recovery is well underway to get deficits down by reducing spending and raising taxes. >> ifill: what should be on the table and what shouldn't in your opinion?
>> everything should be on the table. so congress right now likes to talk about wasteful discretionary spending because that sounds like the least painful thing to cut. but everything-- entitlement programs, social security, medicaid care-- we need longer term reforms. we need tax reform. con traefer to what everyone would like to believe which is we don't need more revenue we really do need more revenue. it's not just a spending side problem or a tax side problem. we need help from all fronts. >> ifill: what should ob the table and what shouldn't? >> i think everything has to be on the table. we really do have to look at it. revenues are part of the solution. we need to raise them but in an efficient way. certainly we have to reduce spending. we need to eliminate where the government is doing things it may not need to do or we don't need to do as much. that's one of the things. we start to have having a national debate about what it is we want done. >> ifill: entitlements on the table?
medicare, medicaid? >> everything has to be on the table. we really do have... particularly medicare and medicaid we do have the get growth of those programs down. the way to do that is by slowing the rate of growth of health care costs systemwide. if we whack medicare and medicaid without slowing the growth of health care in the private system you end up with a system where no longer does medicare and medicaid make sure that the he will elderly and the poor have access to adequate care. care. we need to have a national debate where we really talk about what's important. unfortunately in the campaign last year it was about let's cut spending. let's reduce the size of government. people were led to believe that if we just got rid of earmarks, if we got rid of waste, fraud and abuse that would take care of the problem. we need to have a debate and say if you really do want to reduce the government as much as some people say that means you've got to cut education. you have to cut head start. there's going to be less money for the f.b.i. and. >> ifill:. >> ifill: is that a good idea?
>> it's a debate we have to have. >> ifill: do you think it's a good idea. >> i think we can't cut it as much as people say we should. i think the american people in fact don't want to cut those programs. i think when they understand what it is that the government is doing and the benefits that they derive from it, they will realize that while we've got to slow the rate of growth in spending particularly health care, we also have to make sure we have enough revenues to cover enough spending to actually meet the important needs. >> ifill: do americans have the stomach for those kinds of cuts? >> i actually don't think they have the stomach for it. i think a lot of americans don't realize everything that the federal government provides to us now. they don't realize the tough choices that are ahead that we can't just say smaller government in the abstract. that will impact their families. their families receive benefits from these programs. the economy receives general support from government spending. i think people have to start to you know, confront these choices and how they would affect their own individual
lives. >> ifill: let's talk about one very specific choice which the new republican, incoming republican leadership has put on the table. that is returning the budget to 2008 levels. that's pre-stimulus, pre-all the unpopular bailout spending. is that... does that make sense? >> first of all i think that's a misleading statement when they say we return it to pre-stimulus pre-bailout. last year the 2010 appropriations-- and that's what they're talking about is the discretionary annual appropriations-- they didn't include any bailout money. that's not on the discretionary side of the budget. they didn't include any stimulus money. that was all in fiscal year 2009. so they're suggesting that the budget is currently swollen by bailout and stimulus. that's simply not true. the 2010 budget is just meeting the regular needs of the american public. >> ifill: is it? >> it is. i mean, i believe it's just meeting the needs of the american public. the the problem with their goal of keeping spending levels down is they're exempting a large fraction of
the budget so they're just talking about discretionary spending and they're talking about taking defense spending and national security spending off the table. >> ifill: you think that should be on the table. >> i think everything should be on the table certainly. there's waste in defense spending just as much as there's waste in other parts of the budget. i mean, no part of the federal budget can be exempt from these cuts or these revenue increases because simply we have to look everywhere. >> ifill: in this debate about spending cuts, will there ever be a discussion, does it lead us to the discussion about raising revenues. >> it absolutely should. what's interesting is we've had several high-level commissions recently. the president's commission on fiscal responsibility and reform. the by spartan policy center commission that was headed by former clinton director alice rivlin and budget republican chairman pete domenici. both of those plus a panel put together by the national academy of sciences the year before looked carefully at
this. they concluded we need more revenues than the revenues we would get under current policy. >> we do a lot of spending through the tax code. people think of tax cuts as just universally they benefit everyone broadly. but we have a lot of special government spending, special interest spending done through the tax code. we could fill in those gaps, fill in those holes in the tax code. raise more revenue in an economically efficient way. >> ifill: reality. thank you both very much. >> lehrer: still to come on the newshour, senators udall and alexander debate the filibuster; the stalemate in ivory coast; innocence after 30 years in prison; and video poems about the hai earthquake. but first, the other news of the day. here's kwame holman in our newsroom. >> holman: the u.s. navy has relieved captain owen honors from command of the aircraft carrier u.s.s. "enterprise." he was cited for "extremely poor judgment" in making and showing
lewd videos on board when he was second in command. in norfolk, virginia, today, navy admiral john harvey said the ouster of captain honors is not the end of the matter. >> the investigation will continue to look at all aspects of the production of the videos to include the actions of other senior officers who knew of the videos and what they did or did not do in response. captain honors has been reassigned to administrative duties with the commander naval air forces atlantic. >> reporter: the navy had known about the videos when they were made sever >> holman: the navy had known about the videos when they were made several years ago, but the admiral today offered no explanation for the delay in taking action. the governor of pakistan's most populous province, punjab, was assassinated today by one of his own guards. salman taseewas shot multiple times outside a shopping center in islamabad, the capital. police arrested a commando in the governor's security detail. intelligence officials said the
gunman was angry about taseer's outspoken opposition to pakistan's blasphemy law. in afghanistan, president hamid karzai had a new warning for foreign powers: to stop meddling in his country's internal affairs. karzai did not single out any one issue or name any nations. the u.s. has pressed karzai to crack down on government corruption, and has threatened to withhold aid money if he does not. a flood tide on a swollen river engulfed more of the city of rockhampton, australia, today. it's one of 22 cities and towns submerged in queensland state after more than a week of heavy rain. we have a report from steve scott of independent television news. >> reporter: the disaster, the worst here in 100 years, ambushed rock hampton and those that live there. but even if the scale of the flood waters had been predicted, there's little more they could have done. they protected their homes and businesses as best they could. emergency measures have made
little impact on the force of this huge mass of water. the fits roy river running dangerously fast and rising slowly hour by hour. >> there was a suggestion that they may remain at the peak, whatever that peak is, for a period of up to two days. then as it starts to drop and flatten out, it's likely to be about ten days or so that it could stay at the... or up to ten days at the 8.5 meter mark. >> reporter: many have evacuated after tracking what they could save to the top floor of their homes but many more have stayed put. sometimes against police advice. supplies are dribbling in by military helicopter. and on barges. the only way to pierce what is effectively a giant fast moving moat surrounding rock hampton and the 75,000 people who call it home. while the focus for this crisis over the next 24 hours is rock hampton, many other areas are bracing themselves too. this disaster is now spreading
across huge parts of this vast country. the relief effort is being coordinated all around the state. they're loading supply planes for emergency drops. and in saint george, thousands of kilometers to the west, they're preparing for the worst. they're not convinced their efforts will be good enough. >> scared. nervous. i don't know what to do really. >> reporter: that fear and despair is being felt by hundreds of thousands of australians. today is about survival and damage limitations. very soon everyone will be reflecting on the cost of this irresistible destructive assault. >> holman: as the evacuations continued, authorities in rockhampton warned people to watch for crocodiles and snakes in the high water. detroit's automakers today reported healthy sales gains for 2010. chrysler was up 17%, ford gained 15%, and general motors sales rose more than 6%. and on wall street, the dow
jones industrial average managed a gain of 20 points today to close at 11,691. but the nasdaq fell 10 points to close at 2681. the are some of the day's major stories. now, back to jim. >> lehrer: to a debate over the rules of debate in the united states senate. at issue is the filibuster and the fact that most legislative action now needs the approval of a super majority of 60 senators. in the last congress there were no fewer than 91 votes to cut off debate. many democrats are now eager to change the filibuster rules after the senate convenes tomorrow. one of the pushers of that effort is senator tom udall deocrat of new mexi. one of those opposed is senator lamar alexander of tennessee a member of the senate republican leadership. senator udall, what is wrong with filibusters now that needs to be fixed? >> well, jim, i think the first place to start is what's wrong with the senate.
and what worries me the most is last year we didn't do a budget. we didn't do a single appropriations bill. we did only one authorization so we're not doing the oversight of the agencies themselves. 400 bills were sent over from the house of representatives on many important subjects. we didn't deal with them at all. and all of that was the result, i believe, of kind of a constant filibuster. >> lehrer: do you agree with that? >> no, i don't agree with that, jim. here's what happens. senator reed, the majority leader, brings up the health care law. i go down and say i'd like to amend it. more than the last six majority leaders put together he says no, lamar, you can't. i object. he calls that a filibuster. i call that keeping me from doing what i was elected to do which is to amend and debate and to try to achieve a consensus on important issues
facing our country. so the party of no are the democrats who are saying no to amendments, no to debate and keeping the senate from functioning as it ought to. >> lehrer: but the process that you use is the filibuster, correct? >> well, the process is... say i'm invited to go on the grand ol op pre-. i'm expected to sing, right? if i'm elected to the senate i'm expected to be able to offer any amendment on any bill on any debate. what the people of tennessee want me to do and senator reed and the democrats are saying we're going to cut you off a record number of times. we're saying we want the senate to be back to where it was when senator byrd and senator baker and bills came to the floor with bipartisan cooperation and senators were able to offer their amendments and get a vote. >> lehrer: what about that? >> i don't have any doubt and i think lamar will agree that on both sides there's been this kind of war because they haven't had amendments.
and then you have the filling of the tree. it's back and forth. and we really do have to have a truce. the way to do that, i believe, is that at the beginning of a congress like all legislative bodies do, you take a good, hard look at the rules. what i've advocated is the constitutional option. the constitution says at the beginning of a congress by a majority vote, you can close off debate and you can adopt rules by a majority. i think that will pull us altogether to say we've got to fix the filibuster. we've got to fix secret holes. we have to make the senate more accountable, more transparent to the people, and i think there are a lot of things that i know when lamar and i talk off camera that we can agree that we need to do. >> lehrer: what about the amendments issue that senator alexander just raised? would you be in agreement to do that? >> that's part of the package we're working on right now. i believe in terms of minority rights that the senate is the
place where the minority should be protected. so we should protect minority rights. we should give them the right to amend. we shouldn't try to restrict it. and the important thing is to make sure that we get to the final vote though. that's what the filibuster does. we're running away from up-and-down votes. we're running away from really facing the issues. >> lehrer: do we have a deal, senator alexander? >> not yet. not yet because, see, i disagree with that. i think what the filibuster does is give you a chance to debate and amend and talk until you get a consensus. i mean, i can give you two examples. i remember when i first came to the senate, president johnson... i was an aide in the senate. president johnson had the civil rights bill written in senator dirkson's office. he was the republican leader. he had to overcome a
filibuster of 67 votes to get it passed. but because the republicans and democrats talked it out, not only did they pass it, the country accepted it and then senator russell, who had been the leader of the filibuster, went back to georgia and said, well, i i opposed it but it's the law of the land. now we have to obey it. what i'm afraid tom and some of the democrats want to do is to make it easier to do with all legislation what they did with the health care law which is to pass it with a partisan vote. what that does is get a worse result in my opinion and it created an instant movement to repeal the law as opposed to what happened with the civil rights act. >> lehrer: because there was no debate on the floor. >> because both parties weren't involved. when you have to have 60 votes you have to get some democrats and some republicans. in the house if it's a republican house, they'll just zip through repeal of the health care law next week. if it's a democratic house they'll abolish the secret ballot in union elections. it comes to the senate if we
have a 60-vote requirement, we say, whoa, let's think about that. >> the issue here on those of us that are focusing on reform is not taking away the 60 vote except on the motion to proceed. what we're trying to do.... >> lehrer: wait a minute. we're talking about there's a vote to proceed to just get the bill on the floor. >> just could get the bill on the floor. >> lehrer: you're saying stop filibusters there. in other words the 60-vote requirement but keep the filibuster on the merits on the bill itself. >> on the mer is, on amendments, on conference reports. these are the kinds of things where you should have a filibuster. >> lehrer: is that okay with you? >> no, it's not because that's the weapon that the minority uses to make the democrats or the majority in this case give you amendments. see if majority to way you can have all the amendments you want, they could get any bill to the floor they wanted to unless it was a bill we were trying to kill about which there was no consensus. we don't need to change the rules. we just need to use the rules.
senator byrd said in his last appearance before the senate rules committee, look, confront a filibuster. the way you do that is to say okay we're going to stay up all night. we're going to vote on friday. we're going to vote on saturday. we didn't vote on one friday. with he need to end the three- day workweek, be willing to vote on controversial issues and look for consensus. we don't need to change the rules. >> i agree. we do need to viet. we do need to work longer weeks but i think the healthiest thing, lamar, for the senate, would be able to look at the rules every year. really look at the rules, analyze them, look at what's gone on over the past two years and then see what's working and what isn't and make changes. that to me is in the constitution. he mentioned senator byrd. senator byrd used that himself. he went to the floor in 1979. and he told everybody the constitution is superior and supreme to the senate rules. we need to have rules reform.
there have been a lot of battles on rule reform. we need to tyke a hard look at the rules. tomorrow is that day. that first legislative day. >> lehrer: are you okay with that to have it debated, senator alexander? >> i'm glad to debate and discuss. i think the senate is a shadow of itself. i think we need to get away from.... >> lehrer: a shadow of itself. >> well it used to be a place where almost any senator could get almost any amendment and debate it. it went on until 60 people said that's enough. now we've gotten away from that. i bring up an amendment. senator reed says no. the bill comes in and it doesn't go to committee. most senators on both sides would like to see us do that. i say to tom gently that my democratic friends need to be careful because if they make the senate like the house where you can run a freight train through it that in two years republicans might win and the freight train is is likely to be the tea party
express and they may not like that. >> i ju wanted to say on the issue of... i'm walking... he has predicted many pundits saying two years from now that the democrats may be in the minority. any proposal i put forward with other senators will be fair to the minority, protect minority rights. i'm assuming that i can live with it if i'm in the minority. we're not trying to do a partisan thing. we're trying to bring the senate back, bring it out of the shadows, make it transparent, make it accountable. >> lehrer: speaking of partisanship, why did the... theemocrats had, you know, 60 votes in the senate up until a few days ago like say yesterday or today. why didn't you change the rules then? why are you waiting now to... until the republicans have morrison tores? >> the... i have only been in the senate two years. when i came aboard, we were predicted to have 60 votes.
it didn't take place until al franken came in later in the year. everybody said we have 60 votes. so we're going to be able to get things done. some of the republicans will join us. we endedp finding out that that hurdle was so big and because of the hyper partisanship that we couldn't get anything done. in fact, what we learned about the filibuster-- and this is the fascinating thing-- if the 41 senators who vote to say we want more debate, they don't have to debate under a filibuster. we're in quorum call. we're in what's basically in the senate a constant filibuster without any debate. what we want to do, jim, just... we want to say if 41 senators want to move forward and say more debate, we're going to give them debate. extend the debate. >> jim, they could do that right now. i mean, they just haven't done it. the truth is.... >> we can't do it now. >> the truth is that the
democratic senators don't want to vote on controversial issues. second, they want.... >> lehrer: why would they not want to vote.... >> for some reason like using the grand ol opry again. i'm volunteering for i'm declining to sing. they don't want to cast a controversial vote and go home and run for election. if you don't want to vote why run for the senate. we didn't vote on one single friday. now senator byrd said in that last appearance, if you think the filibuster is being abused, confront it under the current rules and you can do it. they haven't done it... they tried one time. we're going to stay up all night. within three hours they got an agreement. >> lehrer: on a scale of 1-0, what do you think the chances are that you would support or there could be a bipartisan approach to changing the rules beginning tomorrow? >> i think the chances are good. >> lehrer: good? >> yes. because there are lots of us who want the same thing. we want a senate that works, in which we do our job. >> that's right. >> i think the last two years
have been an aberration. there's been no incentive to work across party lines. we have a fairly evenly balanced senate. nothing will pass the senate unless some democrats and some republicans cooperate on that issue. >> that's the reason, jim, that's the reason that on the first day with a more closely divided senate, you step back. you exercise the constitutional option and y say let's take a good, hard look at the rules and hopefully we can back off from some of the warfare and come together on these rules issues and on working together to make the senate a better place. >> lehrer: and it will be known as the udall-alexander rules, right? >> if we both agree. >> lehrer: thank you both very much. >> thank you. >> ifill: next, the political standoff in the west african nio of ivory coast. two men still claim victory in
that country's month-old presidential election, and leaders from the regional organization ecowas continue to search for a resolution. lindsey hilsum of independent television news narrates our report. >> reporter: one country, two presidents. endorsed by the u.n. as the election winner but besieged by troops. african leaders say they'll force mr. gbagbo out if necessary but today mediation was still possible. >> the initial contacts with both president gbagbo and president ouattara indicated some promise of getting them to agree on essential elements in order.... >> reporter: today the african leaders' team reported to the nigerian president that mr. gbagbo had agreed to
negotiate without pre-conditions but it's not clear exactly about what. his exit or some role for him in a new government. mr. ouattara says he won't meet his rival. >> (inaudible) don't expect that. >> reporter: mr. gbagbo promised to lift the siege of the hotel where mr. ouattara is holed up but he hasn't. overnight opposition was attacked by security forces loyal to mr. gbagbo. last week mr. gbagbo's young patriot movement rallied against armed intervention by neighboring countries.
mr. gbagbo's militia attack opponents any time he wants. today's tentative steps toward mediation hen't quelled fearsof further violence. >> ifill: at last public count, more than 170 people have lost their lives in the post-election turmoil. >> lehrer: now, the case of a man who was proven innocent after three decades in prison. ray suarez has the story. >> suarez: in 1980 cornelius dupree was sentenced to 75 years for aggravated robbery. the crime included abduction and rape. dupree was released last july on parole after 30 years behind bars. one week later, d.n.a. test results proved his innocence. today a dallas county judge overturned the conviction and officially cleared his name. dupree spoke to reporters afterwards. >> i just feel that the system needs to be fixed by whatever means, so that this won't happen to anyone else. that's about all i have to say.
>> suarez: dupree served more time than any other texas inmate exonerated by d.n.a. evidence. since 2001, texas has freed 41 wrongly convicted inmates through d.n.a. that's more than any other state. for more, we're joined by the dallas county district attorney, craig watkins. mr. watkins, cornelius dupre as we've mentioned was in jail for decades. hadn't he maintained his innocence all along and tried to win a reexamination of his case? >> fortunately mr. dupre stuck to his core belief and hoped that the justice system would work for him one day. that did. today. he was freed for a crime he didn't commit. >> suarez: how come it took so long, sir? how come it took so long to win a reexamination of the evidence? >> well i think it's a perfect question. i became the district attorney four years ago, and upon
becoming district attorney, we opened a unit that specifically looks at claims of innocence. mr. dupre happened to be one of those individuals. as a result of the unit that we put in place, we have been able to exonerate several individuals. since 2001 there have been 25 individuals from dallas county that have been exonerated. most of those have been exonerated thin the last four years. we will continue to make sure that we seek justice not only for victims but for those who have been wrongly accused. >> suarez: do texas counties have a set of ground rules about how long they keep physical evidence? you had this evidence on file for mr. dupre. did you have to hold on to it? >> no, we didn't. that's another issue that we will be dealing with, with the forth coming legislative session. we believe that there should be a standard in place not only in texas but through all states of how we store
biological evidence. one thing that as bode well for us here in dallas county is the fact that we kept the evidence. you look at the 25 exonerations we've had here in this county, a lot of individuals will chalk it up to dallas county or texas. that's not the case. we just kept the evidence and we were able to go back in this case and in several other cases several years to look at that evidence to determine if a person committed a crime. >> suarez: are you comfortable in saying that there are likely other falsely convicted men in texas prisons who won't have the opportunity that mr. depru had simply because their counties no longer have the evidence in their case? >> i think any district attorney that holds office within this state or within this country who does not recognize the fact that there are individuals in prison that are innocent loses credibility. we have a problem within our criminal justice system. it needs to be fixed. in order for our justices to
work as it should, we need to convict the guilty and make sure that the innocent go free. so, yes, there are innocent individuals in texas prisons. and prisons throughout this country. but it's our responsibility, the elected district attorney, the prosecutors, to take this issue, own it and make sure that we fix it. >> suarez: at the same time as d.n.a. science has been getting better, as the tools around d.n.a. use has been getting better, has it been harder for convicted men and women to reopen their cases using d.n.a.? >> well i mean if you look at the last ten years obviously because we've had the science. but for those individuals where there was no science and because texas saw the need to put a law in place which allowed us to go back and look at these cases, we've been in a position to make sure that we can examine these old cases, use the current technology, the science, to look at those
cases and if the person is truly guilty, then it will prove their guilt. if they are innocent, then it will prove that they should be exonerated. i would hope that all district attorneys throughout our country embrace not only science but what's caused several of these individuals to be wrongfully convicted. it's not limited to science. if you look at the 25 wrongfully convicted individuals out of dallas county, we can focus on one area not just science but the fact that eyewitness identification and the way it had been used in the past is flawed. every one of these individuals that were wrongfully convicted were identified by a victim or a witness. those identifications were wrong. >> suarez: what do you do about eyewitness evidence? you're asking crime victims in court to identify the men who they believe, in this case, abducted and raped them. they say yes these are them. can you throw out eyewitness evidence? >> no, but i think we can
better serve our citizens by ensuring that we use a very different method than we used in the past. we need to go to what's called the double blind system. it's used in the pharmaceutical testing. it gives us the ability and it's not a full proof. nothing will be foolproof but it will give us the ability to better serve our citizens and make sure that when we do ask for an eyewitness identification that we at least are getting closer to having the right individual. also, we need to not only limit it to eyewitness identification. there needs to be more evidence there as opposed to just what a person may have seen or may have not seen. >> suarez: are there any men right now or women in dallas county who are in the pipeline? in the process of having thei cases reopened so they may win freedom like there dupre? >> yes. in dallas county, a few years
ago, we started what we called the conviction integrity unit. that unit is specifically designed to look at these claims of innocence. we reinvestigate the case. we test it if there is any biological evidence available, and we look at current technology and techniques to determine if a person committed a crime. and so, yes, we have several individuals in the pipeline. i think it bodes well for dallas county, for texas, our conviction integrity unit. we would implore all district attorneys to have an integrity unit within their own office and to seek out these individuals that may have been wrongfully convicted. it does a great service to our criminal justice system. we're not here as district attorneys. we're not here to seek convictions. we're here to seek justice. >> suarez: district attorney watkins, thanks for joining us. >> thank you.
>> ifill: finally tonight, a conversation with writer kwame dawes. his works include poems, plays, essays, criticism, and novels. now he's turned to reporting, and turned his subject matter into poetry. jeffrey brown spoke with dawes just before the holidays, and soon after dawes returned from one of several trips to haiti. this story was produced through a partnership with usa today, the pulitzer center on crisis reporting, and the newshour. >> sometes i wondewhy. >> brown: the words tell the story of one of the many victims of haiti's earthquake. they were written by kwame dawes who has been going to the island nation over the last year to report on and write poems that capture the human side of the tragedy. >> i cry and then i laugh. just like that in a few seconds i laugh and then i cry and i dream again. >> brown: dawes works with a
photographer and composer to create short videos. kwame dawe was born in g and spent most of his early years in jamaica. he's written 15 years of poetry and is poet in residence at the university of south carolina. welcome to you. >> thank you for having me. >> brown: tell me about the work in haiti. what were you after? what were you doing? >> you know, when the earthquake took place-- and this was in january of this year-- i was in oregon teaching. andre lamberthson who is a wonderful photographer called me and said to me, i really want us to do something in haiti. so we talked a bit about it. we decided to approach the pulitzer society to see if they would support going to haiti to meet people and find out what is happening with them. >> brown: you and i met a couple of years ago and we talked about this. you do this combination of reporting and writing. >> yes. >> brown: explain it. >> you know, a few years ago i was approached to do some work in jamaica. one of the reasons they picked me because that they thought i
could go in to do reporting because i knew jamaica. they were open to the idea that if i wrote poems in response to what i heard and saw, they would be interested in seeing how it could be used. it worked out marvelously because i write poems as a way to process and to work through the experience. it also gives us an intimacy in the relationship with people. so when i was going to haiti idea was really to report, to find out what was happening but i knew that somehow i would have to find ways to respond to it in poetry. that's what happened. >> brown: in the work in haiti as in when you went to to jamaica and we talked, you're often deal ing with the weakest of the weak often in the cases of people with h.i.v.. >> that's absolutely true. it was an important entry because you know while i was working in jamaica, everybody was talking about haiti. and how haiti's work with h.i.v./aids has been marvelous and made changes and progress. so the thought was what would happen to this progress after
the earthquake? will it be retarded? there will be a situation where the h.i.v. games, the games that is a reduction of occurrence of h.i.v., something like 4% reduction in about ten years will be reversed somehow. i was very interested in seeing what would happen to people's lives. >> brown: what did you see? you first went early in the year, april. you've been going back throughout the year. >> four times. every couple or so months i would go back and spend about a week there. the first thing you're struck with is the devastation. when i landed in april, the buildings were, you know, 80% of these buildings were destroyed. they were all over the streets. the rubble was everywhere. the tent cities had already sprung up. there were 1.5 million people who were displaced and livi in these tent cities. thatasusthe very first thing that struck me. the second thing that struck me was that people were traumatized.
we were living with the trauma but were finding ways to cope with that trauma. they would talk about not wanting to go into buildings, about where they would sleep and so on. and then the last thing was the energy of the haitian people. that is of trying to find a way to make things work. the people working with the government. people just living their daily lives trying to make things work. you were just struck by that because people were still able to laugh or to talk about difficult things even as they reflected on the tragedy. >> brown: amid the enormity of that and the millions of people affected you find some individual stories and then write, talk to them, meet them, get into their lives and then write a poem. >> this is the thing about it. you know, i'm not your standard... as far as i know journalist. i don't go to do immediate news stories. i really want to meet people and find out how they're living and i become a friend. i become somebody who is just interested in their sories anthe liv. and i cannot avoid a good
story. you know, a good narrative tells me there's a poem here or there's an image that is going to emerge out of it. i would listen to people's stories and walk away. at night i would be thinking about it. maybe an image would come back to me. i would find a way to turn that into poetry. >> brown: one example i want to ask you because because i saw that in the video is a man named, well, you called the poem job. >> the man's name is something fferent. a remarble guy. ts is a guy who tells the story of contracting the disease in 2001 from his wife. he just got married. he is a pastor. he contracts the virus. he is pushed out of his church because his leaders say he should reject his wife and throw her out. he says he can't do that. he is convinced he's about to die. he's going to die soon. and then he realizes he's living.
he says the only reason why he should continue to live is to help people and to help those around him. he sets up this organization called... where he visits over 400 people on a regular basis in a subdivision just outside of port-au-prince. he visits them, prays with them, tries to find food and help for them. the only way you understand it is when you see the piblgts of him. when you see him embracing people, how he makes himself a presence in their lives. it's just a stunning thing. despite his hunger, i mean, he will wake up in the morning and not have a meal all day. he's going around visiting people just a remarkable, remarkable example of faith in that place. >> brown: the video of that poem is on our website. we're going to play another one now. a very powerful one called mother of mothers. do you want to explain what that is. >> what struck me about haiti was that the women were carrying most of the burden of
the disease of h.i.v., not because only women had the disease but they were the ones who would first be tested. they would be the ones who get pregnant and have to be tested. then they would have to decide what do i do with this information? they would be the ones to care for the children. they would be the ones to carry the guilt when their children were carrying the disease because it came through them. it struck me that these mothers were the ones who were also holding the community together. i'll tell you a quick story. i was in a church. and i watched an old woman walking around the church. the church had been broken down so we were in a courtyard. she just kept marching around praying, circling the whole congregation again and again. and i asked who she was. they said she's the mother of the church. that woman and there's an image of her in the video forum. she struck me as the strength of the haitian women. >> brown: kwame dawes, nice to talk to you again. here for our audience is
mother of mothers. >> thank you. >> mother of mothers. when a brave woman out walking, she's the spitting image. the faces of mothers of mothers. their cheek bones gleaming against taught skin. their eyes glazed with the scarring of so much lost. in haiti, the mothers of mothers have lamented for so long. all that is left is the sturdy presence of grace, the wide open heart of knowing how much a casket weighs, how it feels on the open path. the mothers of mothers march through the congregation while the children of men clap their hands, beat tamourines, scratch, and sing the flat harmony that shivers the air. beneath a cascade of flame
yellow and red flamboyant, she stalks the outskirts of the feet worn worship ground, the outer limits of the congregation where the weeds and stones have accumulated. here where the excavation of rubble takes us as far as wary arms and the creeky wheel bar owe can go. these women draw a part earn of circles with their heavy planted feet, their arms raised high, their voices continuing with greater ceremony and occasion. that conversation that began with jesus at 4:00 in the morning. oh, the mothers of mothers who know too well the hottest sorrow, the broken bodies of children, the boy who covers a jaw full of maggots and tall, lanky son whose spine gives under the weight of concrete eforhe is pulled t.
laid under the soft blue light of a wayside clinic waiting to go and quietly with the flies returning to his skin, he is still though he must wait there until dusk before they notice, before a procession of mothers leads the body out into the night. and mother of mothers, she hears her child, look around and speak. how nice the air is out here. fore he dies. this time for good. mother of mothers. in your ban dan a and with your holy testament, you must draw the line of defense around the beleaguered souls. and speak a torrent of curses on the beast lurking in the shadows.
>> ifill: jeff ison >> ifill: jeff is on a reporting trip to haiti now and has filed a video dpatch from port-au- prince. that's on our web site, as are links to the "u.s.a. today" and pulitzer center series. >> lehrer: again, the major developments of the day. republican leaders vowed to cut spending on the eve of the new congress convening. and the u.s. navy relieved the captain of the aircraft carrier u.s.s. "enterprise" for making and showing lewd videos on board when he was second in command. and to kwame holman, for what's on the newshour online. kwame? >> holman: margaret warner previews her coming stories from south korea. that's on the ruown blog. we crunched data on how presidential nominees have fared in the bush and obama administrations, and we analyze the confirmation process. plus, are americans more optimistic about 2011? patchwork nation takes a look. all that and more is on our web site, newshour.pbs.org. gwen? >> ifill: and that's the newshour for tonight.
on wednesday, we'll take a peek into adolescent brains, wired to multi-task. i'm gwen ifill. >> lehrer: and i'm jim lehrer. we'll see you online, and again here tomorrow evening. thank you, and good night. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> okay, listen. somebody has got to get serious. >> i think... >> we need renewable energy. >> ...renewable energy is vital to our planet. >> you hear about alternatives, right? wind, solar, algae. >> i think it's going to work an a big scale. only, i think it's going to be affordable. >> so, where are they? >> it has to work in the real world. at chevron, we're investing millions in solar and biofuel technology to make it work. >> we've got to get on this now. >> right now.
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